Lost Lights: Frenchman's Head

Frenchman's Head (Bay of Islands), Newfoundland (Map)

Spring 2016


A few months back, one of the main lighthouse websites I utilize posted links to Michel Forand's photo album containing scans of old Newfoundland lighthouses from a Coast Guard photograph collection. Amongst the 80 or 100 lighthouses, there were maybe 20 that I had never seen a picture of, and many of these that I didn't even know existed. Where there were some I knew about like the lighthouse in Botwood, some of these were completely new.

One of the lighthouses that I didn't know was the Frenchman's Head Lighthouse, located down the bay about 20 minutes from Corner Brook. I noted the location & put it on the to-do list for a wintertime adventure.

I would wait long enough that I didn't have to snowshoe, but the grass was still dead and lined with pockets of snow here and there. There was actually more snow on the driveway that you first walk to get up here, but the snow cleared out once we got closer to the headland and former lighthouse location.

The driveway led to a small cell tower building and a rudimentary road off to the left leading towards Frenchman's Head. Taking this basic road encroached by alders, as Shelley & I got closer there was the modern "lighthouse" and an explanation for the road's existence. Just past the new "lighthouse" there was still a bit of path that led to the foundation where the old lighthouse once stood.

A Google picture shows this new lighthouse from sea.

Photo from the Historical Photograph Collection of the
Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Many of those destroyed lighthouses were tiny wood structures, where it's easy enough to imagine them falling into ruin and disappearing. The Frenchman's Head Lighthouse was slightly more significant, built in 1901, and apparently attached to a dwelling according to Lighthouse Explorer.

While many of those old wooden lighthouses are long gone, a cousin of the Frenchman's Head Lighthouse still survives on Keppel Island near Port Saunders. The Old Keppel Island Lighthouse was also built in 1901 and as I've stood before that lighthouse and know how Canadian lighthouses from the same period can be really similar, I enjoyed standing at Frenchman's Head and picturing their old lighthouse by substituting the Old Keppel Island Lighthouse.

Looking out from Frenchman's Head.

Frenchman's Head was the first official lighthouse in the Bay of Islands and the location of the lighthouse was contentious if the number of Western Star newspaper articles are any indication.

One Capt A. Ozon said that the lighthouse should be on South Head (where one would be built in 1925) or at least at the high, northern point of Woods Island. One Laughlin McLean from Woods Island claimed that no man had sailed in and out of the Bay of Islands as much as he had, then stated that people who think Grassy Island should have the lighthouse don't know what they're talking about. Another writer in November of 1901 states that the local representative raised money for a lighthouse on South Head or Monkey Head, not at Frenchman's Head.

The modern skeletal tower, new "lighthouse" at Frenchman's Head.

Through all of these editorials, the lighthouse was still constructed within the Bay of Islands, before Woods Island, at Frenchman's Head.

The first lighthouse keeper here was Maurice E. Boland of Birchy Cove Bay (Curling). Interestingly enough, his will is available online. There isn't any more information available, although Ferland postulates that the lighthouse must've been demolished soon after the picture was taken in 1952, judging by its rundown state.

I stood here and thought about how it would be fun to clear some of this brush & ride the Frenchman's Head Lighthouse foundation, haha.

I can't turn off the BMX part of my brain.

Anther thought was just how scenic, quiet & easily accessible this was. I instantly had visions of sunset beers, reading and even camping out here, but as I'm almost 2 years behind in editing pictures, I can say that I only finally went back in late September of 2017.

It's a nice little slice of hidden history and I'm not sure why I haven't taken greater advantage. Although when I finally did go back, the last sunset of September wasn't spectacular.

I should keep going back until I find one that is.


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1 - Western Star (Corner Brook, N.L.), 1900-10-30
2 - Western Star (Corner Brook, N.L.), 1901-12-03
3 - Western Star (Corner Brook, N.L.), 1901-11-29
4 - Frenchman's Head Lighthouse - Lighthouse Explorer

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